38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
This is an interesting follow on to the preceding story about an expert in the law who knew all the right answers – for all its rules about doing things, the heart of the law is relationship – but he wanted to keep it an intellectual question.
Here, Martha and Mary both make good choices about their relationship with Jesus. Martha does a generous thing by welcoming Jesus into her home. She does a kind thing by cooking him (and probably all his disciples) a meal. Mary chooses to sit and listen to Jesus.
It becomes clear as Martha focusses on doing things for Jesus: her act of generosity and kindness quickly becomes duty and goes on to become resentment towards Mary and annoyance at Jesus. It overflows as she goes to Jesus in front of everyone and says, “Don’t you care?” (Ouch!) “Tell her to help me!” – give her the burden of duty too.
Jesus gently but firmly makes it very clear: doing things for Jesus is good but doing things with him is so much better. In fact, despite Martha’s sense that the cooking for Jesus “had to be done”, being with Jesus is the only things that is “needed”.
(Martha must have received it well. She and Mary and their brother Lazarus go on the have a deep and enduring friendship with Jesus.)
Jesus, it’s so easy to slip into doing things for you instead of with you. I’m so sorry for when I leave you behind as I get on with what “needs to be done”. Where are you going today? That’s where I want to be. What are you doing today? Can I please do it with you?
Written by David Cornell